Project The Situation of Deaf and Hearing Impaired People in Austria

At the end of the nineties, the president of Österreichischer Gehörlosenbund (Austrian Association of the Deaf) approached the Science Shop Vienna with a bundle of questions that were of vital importance to the deaf community in Austria.

In Austria hearing impaired people are disadvantaged in society on several levels. Not only their private life is affected, but they also meet severe barriers in the education system, in the labour market and even in health institutions, where impaired communication can even lead to life-threatening situations. At the end of the 90s, when the project started, these problems were worse than they are now, ten years later: At that time, sign language was not yet accepted as an official language. This language, which is the natural communication tool for individuals who need to see what is said, was discriminated even in schools for hearing-impaired children, many of which emphasized on lip-reading and production of verbal sounds instead, which could delay understanding and using the native language. Then most deaf people had only access to very few and low-paid professions, but many did not have any realistic chances of earning a living at all. The reasons for this situation were seen mainly in prejudices and lack of knowledge in society at large on the one hand, while on the other hand the deaf education systems were sub-optimal and produced (and may still produce) unnecessary communication barriers. Many of these impediments can be prevented with professional training in sign language as first language, with more courses optimised for deaf people, and with early special training for hearing impaired infants.

The Science Shop Vienna conducted in-depth research into literature, and found out that on an international level many aspects of interest were already covered, but there remained several issues which demanded further inquiry and were deemed appropriate to be tackled within the scope of master thesis. The Science Shop Vienna organised a working group in which leaders of deaf associations, interested students and members of the deaf community could exchange experiences and ideas. In the course of the moderated discussions, several requests were concretised so that research topics for master thesis complementary to existing research publications were developed further:

- Natascha Zickbauer, Gehörlosigkeit und räumliches Vorstellungsvermögen (Deafness and spatial sense), University of Vienna

- Werner Trnka, Issues in the language education of deaf children. First language acquisation, second language learning, and foreign language learning in deaf children, University of Vienna

- Astrid Lampl, Arbeitsplatzbezogene Stressbewältigung Gehörloser (Workplace-related coping with stress of deaf jobholders), University of Vienna

- For her master thesis within Johannes Kepler University’s university course on cultural management Katharina Bösch worked out a concept for a deaf people theatre event.